'What is one book your generation should read?' 3 Canadian teens from Poetry in Voice share their picks

Ahead of the virtual Poetry in Voice final on April 22, some English-language finalists share book recommendations for their generation.

High school students from across Canada were chosen from thousands to compete in a national poetry performance competition known as Poetry in Voice. Students are tasked with selecting two or three poems from a list and then memorize and perform those poems.

The final competition will be broadcast live online on April 22, 2021 on the Poetry in Voice website. The finals will be hosted by former CBC Radio personality Johanne Blais.

In advance of the finals, CBC Books asked three of the English-language finalists about the one book they think their entire generation should read.

Philip Nedelev from Toronto recommends The Stranger by Albert Camus 

Philip Nedelev is a student at Toronto French School in Toronto. (Submitted by Philip Nedelev, Vintage Books)

"Selecting a book out of the millions written by mankind is no less than a daunting task. However, after considerable contemplation, I believe a novel that must be read by everyone in my generation is Albert Camus' L'étranger or in English, The Stranger.

"One of the most influential novels written in wartime Europe, Camus' 1942 work explores the mundane day-to-day life of the narrator, Meursault, an office labourer in the French colony of Algeria. Throughout the text, Meursault leads us through his seemingly emotionless interactions, relationships and views on life. As such, the novel explores a plethora of philosophical and moral issues that continue to plague mankind today. One such truly remarkable idea is the concept of absurdism. A new philosophical theory introduced by Camus himself, absurdism explores the meaning of life as non-existent and the notion of a purposeless and meaningless universe.

One of the most influential novels written in wartime Europe, Camus' 1942 work explores the mundane day-to-day life of the narrator, Meursault, an office labourer in the French colony of Algeria.- Philip Nedelev

"To demonstrate his theory, Camus presents Meursault as indifferent to social issues and utilizes 'écriture blanche,' a minimalist style of writing lacking certain conventions like emotion or vivid description. Although thinking of life through the prism of absurdism can be quite disheartening, I still believe the novel is a must-read for my peers. Among the troubles of the COVID pandemic, society is facing an unprecedented mental health crisis.

"As such, reading a book like L'étranger can truly open up one's perspective on life and possibly bring a new appreciation for it. Some may accept Camus' theory as true and others may find it ridiculous.

"There lies the brilliance of this work: we will all interpret its connotations differently. To prove the cathartic effect this book can have on readers, a study was conducted by The Guardian that found the novel as the most significant and influential book the participants had ever read. Puzzled by this statement? Read the novel in the original French or a translation and judge for yourself. "

Albert Camus was born in Algeria in November 1913. In honour of the 100th anniversary of his birth, Eleanor talks to biographer Olivier Todd about Camus - the Nobel Prize winning author of "L'Étranger."

Thierney Dignadice from Selkirk, Man., recommends Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Thierney Dignadice is a student at Lord Selkirk Regional Secondary School in Selkirk, Man. (Submitted by Thierney Dignadice, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

"Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book that I haven't stopped thinking about since the first time I read it. It's a heart wrenching coming-of-age story about learning how to live in a world where you feel like you don't belong. Growing up in our current world is difficult and confusing, and this book narrates that idea gracefully, while throwing your emotions around at the same time. 

"It follows the lives of 15-year-old boys Aristotle 'Ari' Mendoza and Dante Quintana, from their first meeting and subsequent friendship to the start of their senior year. They go through the ups and downs of friendships and family relationships, and a journey of self-discovery in ethnic, racial, and sexual identity. This is a story that, while set in 1987, feels shockingly modern and relatable to any individual in the process of living (whether you believe you are grown up or not).

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book that I haven't stopped thinking about since the first time I read it.- Thierney Dignadice

"I believe this book will have a lasting impact on anyone who reads it. Evidently, it's had one on me. If you are the type to literally judge a book by it's cover, it can come off as a typical YA fiction about high school and teenage life.

"But to quote the book, 'Words were different when they lived inside of you.' This story becomes different once it lives inside of you. Your perception of the world can become different, but only if you allow it to expand and change and grow inside of you. Maybe if we all let it, we can discover the secrets of the universe. And maybe, discovering the secrets of the universe has to start with discovering the secrets of yourself."

Al Gilbert from Winnipeg recommends Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Al Gilbert is a student at Kildonan-East Collegiate in Winnipeg. (Submitted by Al Gilbert, Simon & Schuster)

"The book I think my entire generation should read is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, a sci-fi novel set in a futuristic and dystopian city where books are illegal and are burned as to not make anyone offended or upset in any way. If someone is even suspected of reading a book or owning one, they will immediately be seized from their homes and thrown in jail. The people in the city do not enjoy nature, think for themselves, have meaningful conversations, and especially do not read books. They instead listen to the radio, drive fast cars, and consume only state-sanctioned media.

"The book shows a lot about how harmful the censorship of art and writing can be. It gives an insight on how boring and dull life is without the things that make us individuals. The people of the book can't and don't want to think about themselves nor the world around them, because they have been demanded by the government not to. The government of the city would rather have everyone the same, to make sure nobody would get offended, instead of having everyone's unique differences, and the things that make them human.

The book shows a lot about how harmful the censorship of art and writing can be.- Al Gilbert

"I recommend this book to anyone looking to explore the topic of censorship by the government, or anyone who wants an interesting read that will challenge your mind and make you think about the world around you. A quote from a retired English professor in the book, Faber, speaks a great line about how he feels censorship and the government control of the city: 'So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless.'" 

Monowhales's singer Sally Shaar on why she's reading Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?